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Working with Perspective: Existence Through the Eyes of Cosmology

by Emily Peavy on January 27th, 2017

Reflection of Maunakea Skies with Dr. Doug Simons, Director of Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT)” 

‘Imiloa invited Dr. Doug Simons, Director of the Canada France Hawaii Telescope, to the planetarium where he presented on modern cosmological concepts and how we can fold these ideas into our perspective on existence itself in Maunakea Skies: Cracking the Code of Existence, Universal Questions & Answers from Maunakea

Working with Perspective
In today’s world science, religion and culture are often portrayed to be conflicting ideals constantly at odds with each other. However, Dr. Simons explained when one steps away from this thought the concepts of religion, culture, philosophy and science can merge into common desires of self exploration, helping us to better understand the Universe around us.

Although we strive to collectively work together, Dr. Simons explains that conflict still occurs; in particular around what we consider to be sacred. “In these escalated situations people will become entrenched in their own perspectives,” Simons said. “Instead of working together and communicating we are left in a cacophony of shouting not listening to each other.”

We must really do better than this.” Dr. Simons emphasizes, “Science, religion, culture, environment all must move forward and all need balance in this world. We cannot afford to freeze tension into our community as we look towards the future.” All of these ideas look for truth in the universe around us; in science Astronomers explore the nature of the universe itself through Cosmology.

The Beginning of Our Understanding
Cosmology can be described as humankind’s lasting vision and question. Its core questions are universal: ‘Why and how do we exist?’ ‘Where did the Universe come from?’ ‘How can something come from nothing?’ Cultures from around the world have been asking these questions since the beginning of time. In Hawaiian culture, the Kumulipo teaches us that everything in the Universe comes from ; from infinite, chaotic darkness.

Today’s cosmological Universe is incredibly complex; but as always it is useful to start at the beginning. We know that the early Universe was very bright, very hot and expanding very fast. After about 300,000 years, gasses cooled enough to form atoms. We are able to study this period of the Universe using the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). The CMBR can be described as the leftover redshifted light of the early Universe (which can only be observed in microwave wavelengths). After matter collected into atoms the ‘Dark Age’ of the Universe began and the first stars, and eventually galaxies, were able to form.

Bringing Balance to the Universe
As we consider matter we should also consider a very famous equation: E=mc2. This very basic equation states that equivalent energy (E) can be calculated as the mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light (c) squared; teaching us that matter is a highly concentrated and localized form of energy. Understanding the origin of the Universe requires an understanding of energy. The Universe stores energy as matter as it continues to expand. If all matter is energy, then the total energy of the Universe should be incredibly unbalanced, and yet it is not. This begs the questions, is nothing actually something? And is something actually nothing?

Slide courtesy of Dr. Simons, Quote by: Richard Feynman

Additionally, current observations of the universe indicate that the Universe is flat, as opposed to having a negative curvature (like a saddle) or a positive curvature (like a sphere). This expresses a unique balance to the Universe.  

Existence: A Cosmological Question
The basic properties of the Universe, from the mass of a proton to the force of gravity, became established at the Big Bang and remain unchangeable. From the very first moment, our Universe has remained balanced in terms of curvature and energy content, but the probability of such a Universe existing is staggering. Yet, against these extraordinary odds, the Universe exists. As we tackle these cosmological questions we delve into the meaning of our own existence

Join us for ‘Imiloa’s next Maunakea Skies talk with Dr. Meg Schwamb of Gemini Observatory who will discuss “Exploring Mars with 150,000 Earthlings” on Friday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m. Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Tickets can be pre-purchased at ‘Imiloa’s front desk, or over the phone by calling 808-932-8901. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply).

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